News archive 2010
Top students bipolar disorder risk03 Feb 2010, PR 27/10
Scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s and colleagues from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, have published first ever scientific evidence that exceptional intellectual ability is associated with bipolar disorder.
This belief has often been reflected in the writings of famous authors and throughout history – scientists have been unable to pinpoint whether this is true.
Lead researcher Dr James MacCabe, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, said: 'We found that achieving an A-grade is associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder, particularly in humanities and to a lesser extent in science subjects. A-grades in Swedish and Music had particularly strong associations, supporting the literature which consistently finds associations between linguistic and musical creativity and bipolar disorder.'
Several possible explanations for the link were put forward; people in a state of hypomania (a mild period of mania or elevated mood) can often be witty and inventive, and able to link ideas in innovative ways; people with bipolar disorder often experience unusually strong emotional responses, which may help their talent in art, music and literature. Third, people with hypomania often have extraordinary stamina and can keep concentrating for long periods of time.
These types of cognitive style may help students perform better in creative school subjects – but also predispose them to bipolar disorder in later life.
The researchers used results taken from Sweden’s annual compulsory exams taken by 15-16 year olds annually between 1988 and 1997. Comparisons were drawn between the Swedish hospital discharge register to test associations between the students’ academic achievement and admission to hospital with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder between the ages of 17 and 31. A total of 713,876 individuals were included in the study.
They found that students with excellent school performance were almost four times as likely to develop bipolar disorder as adults, compared to those with average grades. This increased risk remained after the researchers considered other factors such as parental education and socio-economic status.
Students with the poorest grades were also at a moderately increased risk of bipolar disorder. They were almost twice as likely to develop bipolar compared to those with average grades.
Some people who go on to develop bipolar disorder, particularly those with depressive symptoms, may have cognitive styles that impair their academic performance. It is also possible that disturbed behaviour, substance misuse or undiagnosed depression may affect their studies.
The research also showed that the association between high grades and risk of later bipolar disorder appears to be stronger in males than females. But more research is needed in this area.
The study, ‘Excellent school performance at age 16 and risk of adult bipolar disorder: national cohort study’ was published in the February issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry. For a copy of the paper, please follow this link.
Notes to editors
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2009) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 21,000 students from nearly 140 countries, and more than 5,700 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.
Acting Public Relations and Communications Manager, Institute of Psychiatry
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